The next interview in our stagey chat series, is with the wonderful James Lawrence. James just finished his run in Doctor Who: Time Fracture. James is also about to open Riot Cabaret in London. His recent theatre credits include The Great Gatsby, One Man, Two Guvnors, The Tempest and Othello.

Get yourself comfy and join James and I for a chat about all things stagey!

Hi James, how are you? Thanks so much for chatting to Stage to Page today! Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us how you first got into acting?
Great to be here! I came to acting quite late in the grand scheme of things; I never really did drama when I was younger, so the thought of ever acting professionally didn’t enter my mind at all for a long time. I studied philosophy at university and was all set to go on and do my PGCE and become a teacher once I graduated, but all that got put on hold once I joined the drama society in my third year. It was one of the most spectacular sliding doors moments in my life — I was heading home from a night out and bumped into a couple of friends on their way to a house party. I ended up going and met some people from the drama society there and they were just the kindest, most welcoming people I’d ever encountered. It was only ever "come as you are” and that was it for me; I had found my tribe. I ended up performing in their production of The Crucible and I knew straight away that everything else had to go on hold, and I needed to throw everything I had at it. I’d got the bug but I never would have met those wonderful people if I hadn’t bumped into that group of friends on the street that night. 20 seconds later or earlier and we’d have missed each other. Things could have turned out so differently!

You've just recently finished your time at Doctor Who: Time Fracture. How was that experience for you?
It was nothing short of a dream come true. I love Doctor Who more I can describe, and when Tom Maller (director) and Dan Dingsdale (writer) told me they’d been working on it, there was no force of nature that could stop me from being involved somehow. To get to share that experience with my fellow fans was something I’ll treasure for a long time to come. It was a shame that the show closed when it did, but it was a monumental force of will by so many people to keep that show going for so long, because it was such a labour of love. Between two catastrophic floods that almost completely destroyed the set, to the Omicron outbreak happening just before what was set to be a huge Christmas, so many forces conspired against us. It eventually proved too much, but I’ll always be thankful for the time I had on that show. I also met my incredible partner whilst working there, which is beyond anything I could ever have hoped for. That happened near the end of the run; that show saved the best surprise for last.

Your last few roles have been immersive theatre. How does acting in immersive theatre differ from traditional theatre? Is it something you particularly enjoy?
There are so many plates to spin. As well your performance and the scene itself, you need to be paying attention to how many people you’re taking with you when you head elsewhere, making sure your timings sync up with performers in other rooms, improvising, logistics and making sure everyone feels included in a way that’s enjoyable for them…the list goes on! I relish the challenge of it, because there really is nowhere to hide. When the audience are right up close, they can see every muscle in your face and every movement of your eye; they know if you’re giving them the real deal. It’s also an incredibly exciting medium to work in because it’s still so nascent; I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do with immersive theatre. There are some mind-bendingly good performers and creatives in the vanguard of this form and it’s a privilege to get to work alongside them.

I was lucky enough to see your return to The Great Gatsby recently, as the iconic Nick Carraway. If the opportunity arose, would you ever return to the show? You were absolutely fantastic.
Thank you! Never say never, I suppose. My brief return to Gatsby was an absolute joy, as my previous stints on the show were curtailed twice by the pandemic (once in March 2020 and again in December 2020), so I jumped at the chance to do it again, even for just a week. Gatsby was such a special show to work on, I had some of the most special onstage moments in my career on that show and met some people who I still speak to every day and are friends for life. If I was to pick one show from my career so far that I’d like to be associated with, I think it would be Gatsby. I joined in January 2018, so I ended up doing about two and a half years on that show, which is a long time but the audience gives it a special kind of spontaneity that keeps it fresh every night. Having said that, while I’m immensely proud of the work we did on that show, the current Gatsby cast have really taken it to a whole new level. They’re truly spectacular, so I think I’m unlikely to be asked back full-time anytime soon. But if I were to be, I’d certainly find it hard to say no.

Riot Cabaret has it's grand opening this month. It sounds incredible. For those who may not know, can you tell us more about it, and your involvement? 
It might seem odd to a lot of people but pro wrestling is, to my mind, one of the greatest art forms there is. There is simply nothing else that combines that level of athleticism and physical skill with acting, theatricality, improv, crowd work, toughness and charisma. The list is virtually endless. And I love wrestling more than virtually anything else, so my friend Sean Thorne and I decided to make the kind of wrestling show we were desperate to see. The UK has been home to a lot of incredibly talented wrestlers over the years and there are some phenomenal performers on the scene right now who we want to give a platform to. We were actually meant to start back in April 2020, and then the pandemic obviously curtailed that, which was bitterly disappointing. But we pitched our idea to the Clapham Grand when we were relaunching and they went for it immediately. And if you think wrestling isn’t for you, then you are the person we’re making this show for; when wrestling’s put together well, there really is nothing like it. We want to put on the kind of show that people can totally lose themselves in, whether they’re already a die-hard fan or have never watched a match in their life.

Did you always know you wanted to be on stage when growing up?
Not especially. I was quite shy as a kid and while I enjoyed drama, it never really captivated me in the way that I think it does for a lot of children; that came much later. I was obsessed with comedy though, particularly anything involving impressions. I used to mimic every voice I ever heard which, though no doubt annoying for everyone I encountered, has been quite handy for my career in terms of accents and the like. As a kid, I would have jumped at the chance to be an impressionist over an actor, but I couldn’t be more pleased with how things have ended up. And then as I became a teenager, I had this fixation with stand-up comedy, which I’ve held onto. I couldn’t get enough of George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg. So I always had this kind of reverence for the stage, I just never thought I’d end up on one.

Are there any productions you've seen recently that have left an impression on you?
I finally got to see Jerusalem recently. I’m usually quite late to things, and sometimes when something is hyped to within an inch of its life, that can make me more resistant to seeing it. But Mark Rylance is simply on another level in that show; it’s the kind of artistry that comes along once in a generation. It was one of those rare things that actually excelled the hype for me. I was right up at the back of the upper circle and could still see every nuance of his performance. That was one of the most technically impressive things actually, among many others: raising a performance as detailed as that to the optics of a room that size, so that it still reads perfectly to the people sat right at the back. I felt like I was in the front row.

From Shakespeare, to classics like Gatsby, to ring announcing - what do you enjoy most, and what's next for you?
Variety is the spice of life! I love to try new things and that’s one of the many reasons why performing can be such a rewarding career. Maybe this is just recency bias, but the my recent immersive work like Gatsby and Doctor Who has been right up there with the highlights of my career. I wouldn’t swap those experiences for anything. In terms of acting, who knows? I’m excited to get back out there and see what happens!

My blog is called Stage to Page. But if you could turn any book, from page to stage, what would it be and why?
Oh, that’s an absolutely brutal question. There have been so many phenomenal adaptations over the years so I’m going to have go for something that, to my knowledge, has never been done: Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism by Hans Fallada. He was one of the finest writers in the Weimar Republic and his creative output really found its voice just as the politics of the time made that virtually impossible. This piece centres around the hapless struggles of a man trying to find morphine in 1920s Berlin. It’s hilarious, dark and spartan, and would almost certainly be a commercial catastrophe if I were to try and do anything with it. But Hans Fallada and his work deserves to be much more widely known, so that’s my pick to go from page to stage.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. You can catch Riot Cabaret's Grand Opening on 28th June 2022. You can purchase tickets, here

No comments